Can Brands Create Gender Equality?

March 30, 2021

Can Brands Create Gender Equality?

Sarah Kasarsky

The fight for gender equality is by no means a new one. Calls for reform on reproductive rights, maternity leave, equal pay and women's suffrage (to name just a few) have been around for decades. In 2021, it’s time to rethink the role of brands when it comes to fighting for gender equality. How can they move the needle? And how do consumers expect them to do so? 

OBERLAND asked American consumers on real-time market research platform Suzy, as well as individuals on our LinkedIn network, a series of questions during Women’s History Month to uncover how they really want to see brands responding to pressing issues surrounding gender equality during WHM and beyond.

See our key findings below: 

1. Ongoing advocacy and action for gender equality matters more than one month of female affirmation.

Across industries and sectors, many of the nation’s leading brands have highlighted leading women and their accomplishments during Women’s History Month. While March is certainly a time to celebrate all women, we asked our LinkedIn network: If a brand does not regularly advocate for or act in support of women, should they stay silent during Women’s History Month? 

More than half (55%) said “yes.”

A panel of 500 American consumers on Suzy agreed, with nearly 3/4 respondents saying they feel more negatively toward a brand that spotlights women ONLY during Women’s History Month.

This shows that for brands, continuous advocacy and action for gender equality matters more than one month of female affirmation. Eleven months of silence and inaction will not - and cannot - ever be overlooked for one month of support. 

2. Prioritize addressing internal gender inequities 

What does taking action for gender equality really mean for brands as they look to make changes that will make their companies more equitable in the coming year (or 5 or 10)? We turned to our LinkedIn network to help uncover which issues brands should prioritize when it comes to gender equality. When given the option of the following actions  - addressing internal inequities, spotlighting female leaders, supporting female-focused organizations and catalyzing advocacy efforts - a majority (59%) said that brands should prioritize addressing internal inequities. This sentiment was mirrored by our panel of 500 consumers on Suzy. This can be accomplished a multitude of ways, from ensuring equitable pay for employees of all genders (and conducting a wage gap audit to ensure this practice is in place), consistent growth opportunities for those of all identities and better policies for working mothers like flexible work schedules and child care assistance. 

3. Recognize - and help reduce - the unique challenges facing minority and BIPOC women 

There is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to supporting and advocating for women. All women - minority and BIPOC women in particular -  are faced with their own unique set of challenges. When we asked our LinkedIn network how brands can best support minority and BIPOC women during Women’s History Month and beyond, an overwhelming majority (78%) said brands should address workplace inequities. This falls in line with the actions listed above, with an additional emphasis on driving forward internal initiatives and policies that prevent workplace discrimination against BIPOC and minority women. 

A majority of consumers on Suzy said they want brands to bring attention to unique inequities facing BIPOC women through advertising and content. This may include featuring more diverse groups of women in advertisements or publishing thought-leadership content to bring attention to systematic disparities that disproportionately affect minority and BIPOC women and best-practices on how to dismantle these.

4. Help deconstruct gender stereotypes in advertising. 

OBERLAND found that 3/4 Americans believe brands perpetuate stereotypes about women in advertising. To progress gender equity, it’s vital that brands represent women as the complex, diverse, accomplished, strong beings they are. For brands, this requires reframing and rethinking how you represent women in your advertising and content. 

When we asked our LinkedIn network how brands can support this effort, more than ⅔ said brand should challenge gender roles in advertising and content. This doesn’t need to be revolutionary - it can simply reflect reality, such as showing a man folding the laundry or a woman fixing the roof. 

Driving change doesn’t stop with gender equality. Download our Purpose Forecast to learn which social forces consumers expect brands to take a stand on (and how to meet their expectations). 

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